Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What might be useful

Yesterday, a member of the International Association of Crime Analysts posted a question on their forum:
"Currently, I do a report for the command staff and then several reports for individual divisions within the department that are geared toward that division only.  We are looking at continuing our command staff report, but then putting together a bi-weekly comprehensive report that includes USEFUL information.  Of course many of the things done now will be put in this report, but I would love some fresh ideas. I would like to hear your input on what kinds of reports and information you put out regularly that your department finds really useful.  So….what’s useful?  What just goes to the trash?"
I was going to respond with a few ideas, but decided a blog post would be more effective. In Lincoln, we use various methods for keeping our command staff informed, one of which is CrimeView Dashboard. Although I like this product, the purpose of this post is not to promote it. The concepts are not dependent on the software. We were trying to get this kind of information in the hands of our staff way before we adopted CrimeView. These descriptions may give you some ideas on what kinds of information might be valuable to police commanders. 

We organize these data into widgets, which reside on pages, which are within books--all electronic, and all updating automatically. The books are geographic: one for each of the department's command areas, and one that contains citywide data. Here's a description of the pages and widgets.

Current Trends Page
Widgets on the current trends in crime and dispatches. For example, this widget displays the workload trend in the past 14 days. Blue bars are calls for service,with the gray bars depicting the expected trend in the next 7 days, based on the past two years' history. The red line is the predicted trend line, which takes into account day of week variation:

Recent Crimes Page
Widgets for selected crimes within the previous 7 days. These are the kinds of crimes that are of particular interest in Lincoln, including gang-related offenses, retail business robberies, domestic violence, burglaries, thefts from autos, and this widget--drug-related crimes. The map is interactive: click on any icon for the details about that offense, or change the view from a map to a time-of-day chart, for example:

Persons of Interest
Widgets for the registered sex offenders, parolees, offenders on furlough from prison, drug court clients, gang members, and this one--registered sex offenders who have new addresses within the past week. Again the map is interactive, if you are in the app, you can click for the details::

Widgets about problem places, including such things as recent crimes at schools, addresses where we have responded to party disturbances, and this widget--a graduated symbol map of places with four or more false alarms in the past 90 days. We do a lot of work aimed at reducing false alarms, and this widget shows you the problem places right away. If you were actually inside the app, instead of this screen shot, you could click on the maximize button at the top right to take the map full screen:

Wanted Persons
Widgets for people with BOLOs and arrest warrants, over various time period lengths, such as this one--arrest warrants issued in the past week. I am a big believer that keeping pressure on people with arrest warrants has a pay off. You can click one of those buttons at the top of the frame if you would prefer to see these data as a table, rather than a map:

Part 1 Crime
The current trend in Part 1 offenses, compared to the same time period last year. In this screenshot, the data is rendered as a bar graph by offense type, but in the actual app, you can click one of those buttons at the top left for a day of week chart, an interactive map, a table of the data, a time of day chart, or a temporal heat grid:

Special Interests
Widgets for several things not categorized elsewhere, such as recent stolen gun cases, liquor license violations, and this widget of assault on police officers in the past 4 weeks:

Another way we deliver information to commanders is through threshold alerts. This is a snapshot of the citywide alerts in CrimeView Dashboard. When the threshold is exceeded, the icon turns red and pulsates, indicating at a glance something out of the ordinary. Commanders are interested in emerging problems that might be lost in the sheer volume of daily activity. That's the purpose of these alerts. Only one of these (graffiti vandalism) had fired off this morning. You can click on this screenshot for a larger view that is more legible:

Monday, April 28, 2014

Burglary prevention

Overnight, officers of the Lincoln Police Department's Southeast Team were busy searching for open garage doors. They were able to get 15 of those buttoned back up during the wee hours of the morning. Nice work by Officers Sears, Arnold, Schaaf, and Hellmuth. I suspect that when a police officer lets you know you left your door open, you will develop a habit of double checking thereafter.

If you're curious why this simple activity is so valuable, you can go back almost to the beginning of this blog, back in May, 2007. It has been an incredibly useful strategy for preventing burglary. In 2005, there were 178 burglaries through garage doors that were simply left standing open. Last year, there were 32. So far this year, there have been 8.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Vandalism trend

FBI Part 1 offenses, the eight offenses that are the focus of crime statistics in the United States, do not include many crime types and subcategories that also affect our sense of well-being in our own neighborhood. One of those is vandalism--a particularly annoying and disconcerting crime that impacts thousands of Lincoln residents every year.

After a string of vandalisms occurred in my neighborhood this week, I became interested in whether we were experiencing a spurt citywide (we are not). One thing led to another, and before long I was making myself a spreadsheet of the trend over the past eight years. I was slightly surprised, and decided to break out the graffiti vandalism cases separately. Pretty remarkable to be able to assemble this data in a half hour at the kitchen counter (most of which was consumed formatting my graph)--a testament to the work of our IT staff in developing our fine records management system.

That sudden decline in graffiti in 2010 and the subsequent years, I believe, is best attributed to the City's efforts to eradicate graffiti quickly, spearheaded by the gentleman who coordinates this, Mr. William Carver at the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department. When graffiti is quickly removed, it is much less likely to attract even more of its friends, enemies, and associates.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PSAPs and dispatch centers

A PSAP is a public safety answering point--the place where a call to 911 is actually answered. Although most PSAPs are also dispatch centers (the places where dispatchers communicate via radio with units in the field) the reverse is not always true: dispatch centers are not necessarily PSAPs.

Here in Lancaster County, we have a single PSAP: the City of Lincoln's Emergency Communications Center, which is the largest single unit of the Lincoln Police Department. Our PSAP is also the dispatch center for most of the public safety agencies in Lancaster County, including Lincoln Fire & Rescue, Lincoln Police, Lancaster County Sheriff, and several of the rural fire districts.

In some circumstances, however, the PSAP and the dispatch center are two different entities.  In Lincoln, for example, both the Nebraska State Patrol and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police have their own dispatch centers, but these are not PSAPs. If the Lincoln PSAP gets a 911 call that requires the State Patrol or the University Police, we pass that information along the old-fashioned way: pick up the phone and call. I'm sure they get plenty of direct phone calls, just not 911 calls.

In the news this week has been a plan by the Nebraska State Patrol to consolidate some of their dispatch centers around the State to Lincoln, starting with a center in Norfolk, NE. This plan makes sense to me. The savings from consolidation are great, and I believe these can be realized without any significant downside. This has no impact on the function of PSAPs around the state, because the State Patrol dispatch centers are not PSAPs: 911 does not ring at these centers. From a technical standpoint, in this day and age the dispatch function does not necessarily need to be in the same neighborhood as the patrol units.

The article notes that the State Patrol's Norfolk dispatch center handled 20,000 calls for service of the Patrol's total of 195,000 statewide. Lincoln's Emergency Communications Center handled 472,032 telephone calls last year, which resulted in 294,151 dispatched incidents for police, sheriff, and fire & rescue units here in Lincoln and Lancaster County. I couldn't find the Douglas County (Omaha) 911 Center data online this morning, but my guess is we are around half their volume, maybe less.

By the way, Public Safety Telecommunicator's Week just wrapped up. Support your local dispatchers, the first first responders.  And if you're in the market for a public safety career where every shift is different and you get the chance to serve others in your community every day--sometimes in dramatic fashion--don't forget this one.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Close to record

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called Suspended but undeterred, in which I ranted about the problem of chronic repeat suspended drivers. Well, this one takes the cake.

Earlier this morning, around 3:00 AM, a Lincoln police officer stopped a motorist for a minor traffic infraction. He had no driver's license, and lied about his identity. It didn't work. The officer figured out who he really was pretty quickly.

He tried to deceive the officer about his identity because he is suspended, but here's the kicker: he has previously been convicted of driving on a suspended license 21 times. That's pretty impressive for a 29 year old, and has to be close to a record of some sort.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pot more common

Last Friday, I was reading police reports early in the morning, around 5:00 AM. I noticed that there seemed to be a large number of tickets issued since midnight for possession of marijuana--seven. This made me wonder whether police officers in Lincoln are encountering pot more often. Aside from the legalization of wacky tobaccy in Washington and Colorado, it seems to me that the stigma of weed as a Bad Thing has pretty much faded.

Nebraska, by the way, has had one of the nation's most liberal laws on pot for decade: it is an infraction to possess less than an ounce in the Cornhusker State, carrying a fine of $100. In terms of the penalty, that's far less than a ticket for minor in possession of alcohol, and on par with your average speeding ticket.

I ran the numbers for 2014, year to date (January 1 through April 15). Then I did the same time period in previous years. There are Incident Reports classified as drug cases, that include the word "marijuana." The results seem to bear out my theory.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Volume and proportion

A question posted on the International Association of Crime Analysis forum last week caught my eye. It was by a detective at a municipal police department in Texas, who was trying to figure out how to create a map which would depict the relative number of thefts, burglaries, and robberies in each of his city's three police districts.

Since he wanted to do this using ArcGIS (something I'm pretty comfortable with), I replied to the list with my suggested method. I suspect crime analysts who lurk on the IACA list are somewhat shocked when a person in executive management responds with a solution to a technical GIS issue. I'm probably older than most of their fathers, too, but from time to time I like to remind myself that I can still do things like create pivot tables, hammer out a little html code, and wrangle a GIS project to make it do what I want it to do.

At any rate, this is similar to what he was trying to accomplish. It is a map of robberies in Lincoln from 2009 through 2013, depicted as five pies, one for each of the Lincoln Police Department's command areas. The differing size of the pies reflects the relative number of robberies within each Team, while two slices of each pie are business robberies and non-business robberies.

It's a simple graphic that at a glance conveys information about both volume and proportion. As you can see, the Southwest Team has a much larger volume of robberies, and the non-business slice is way bigger than most of the other teams. Basically, street robberies are the issue in the Southwest and Center Teams, while business robberies (though still fewer than non-business) are more prevalent in the Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast teams.

Click image to enlarge
For analysts wishing to create this effect with ArcGIS, take your polygon layer (in my case, the five police teams) and add fields for the pie slices and their values (in this example, business robberies and non-business robberies). Under "Properties" change the symbology to "Charts" and select a pie chart. A stacked bar chart would also work well with these data. There are other settings for various options, but you'll get the drift.

Friday, April 11, 2014

What I would have written

I apologize to my loyal readers for neglecting the blog this week. Truth is I've been sick since last Saturday, in bed a couple of days, and needed to extra zzzzzs. All better now, though. Here's what I would have written about this week, had I not been such a slug:

A pair of two-alarm fires stretched Lincoln Fire & Rescue, and required a lot of resources at the same time. Both were successfully extinguished without any injuries. Listened to the whole thing on my radio while wrapped up in my blankie looking pitiful. Nice work by everyone involved.

Would have expected the Molotov cocktail vandal (alleged) to be more like 17, rather than 27. You might recall that these were tossed during a red flag warning, when the wind was howling out of the south. We are lucky he didn't set Nebraska and both of the Dakotas on fire.

And really, really?

Friday, April 4, 2014

More eyeballs

My Monday night effort to use crowdsourcing to identify the make and model of the vehicle involved in tossing four Molotov cocktails last week paid off. Several readers definitively pinpointed this as a first generation Neon (1995-1999)--including an FBI agent in another state who reads the Director's Desk.

Wednesday morning around 7:00 AM, a Crimestoppers tip was received from a person who had spotted a vehicle parked on the street in the vicinity of S. 50th and South Streets, with a pretty poor attempt at a car cover. The source mentioned two of the specific descriptors contained in my Monday night post, and knew that these matched the arson vehicle. Looks like he or she is a reader of my blog.

Dagnabbit, every time I think about calling it off and recapturing a few hours of my personal life, something like this happens that makes me rethink the value of blogging. In any event, the car has been seized, the suspect has been identified, and his surrender for arrest is presently being negotiated. These offenses will be cleared, and social media provided the key information.

It is the golden age of criminal investigations, suspects are leaving trails of evidence our predecessors could hardly imagine. No way a camera would have captured such images during the first 35 years of my career. We are still trying to figure out the best thing to do with these relatively new information streams. In some circumstances, keeping the cards close to the vest is the best police strategy. In most, however, engaging thousands of more eyeballs in the search is vastly preferable.